On November 20 2018 the provincial government issued a media release entitled Ontario Working to Stop Violence Against Women and Support Survivors. It announced that it is investing $11.5 million this year to better support frontline shelter workers serving women and children and delivering counselling programs across the province.
Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues Lisa MacLeod said,
We want to make sure those affected by violence and exploitation receive the supports they need, while offenders are held accountable through the justice system.
Whereas increasing the quality of frontline support for women and children under threat is laudable, for residents of Renfrew County the memories of the murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam remain fresh. Before he committed his heinous crimes, Basil Borutski had already been “through the justice system,” yet it failed to take appropriate steps that might have saved the lives of the three women.
During his trial it was revealed that Borutski had been convicted of assaulting and attempting to choke Kuzyk the year before she was killed. At the time of that assault he was on probation for offences against Warmerdam including threatening to kill her dog and harm her son. A term of that probation required him to participate in a domestic violence response program but he never attended a single session. Leighann Burns, executive director of Harmony House, an Ottawa-based women’s shelter, was reported as saying after the Borutski trial had finished that Borutski’s potential for violence was clearly visible to everyone involved in those cases. She also asked whether the justice system did enough to contain that danger.
In response to these concerns, MPP John Yakabuski introduced (and reintroduced) a private member’s bill aimed at ensuring that offenders like Borutski would obey the terms of their probation and parole. It would also require those convicted of sexual violence to have an electronic monitoring system that would let authorities know where they are at any given time. His bill died on the vine when the Ontario legislature was dissolved in May 2018.
At the time, Yakabuski noted that he often hears from residents who want greater accountability placed on parolees so that their victims are safer:
It is unacceptable that a year has passed since Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton were taken from us, yet the government has not passed legislation to strengthen our parole system. Government must take this matter seriously and acknowledge there are ways to provide greater protection to victims of violence – anything less is unacceptable.
Until some action such as Yakabuski’s proposed bill is taken, ministerial pronouncements about the effectiveness of the justice system will continue to have a hollow ring about them. Prosecuting and getting convictions is only the first step. Implementing a regime of serious repercussions for those like Borutski who thumb their noses at obligations imposed following conviction, for example complying with probation or parole terms, is essential.
Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (2018, Nov.20) Ontario Working to Stop Violence Against Women and Support Survivors [News release]
Featured photo: Kat Jayne